ARLINGTON, Tex. — Michigan’s Trey Burke wasn’t simply the best player on the court in Friday’s Sweet 16 battle with top-seeded Kansas. He was the gutsiest.
After being held scoreless in the first half, the sophomore guard drilled an impossibly nervy three-pointer to knot the score at 76 with 4.2 seconds remaining. And there it remained, forcing overtime for the fourth-seeded Wolverines, who had trailed for all but roughly one minute of the game.
The 6-foot Burke then stood tallest in overtime. He accounted for five of Michigan’s 11 points in the extra period to hand-deliver an 87-85 victory that propelled the Wolverines into the South Region final, where they’ll meet Florida or tournament darling Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday.
“I think everyone who watched that game saw what we have been coaching all year: They play to win, they play together, and they’ve been persistent all year,” Michigan Coach John Beilein said.
With his sharp shooting and steely resolve, Burke totally transformed the dynamics of a game that was all Kansas and seemingly out of hand in the waning minutes. In so doing he underscored his case for player of the year honors.
Up 76-73 with 12 seconds remaining, Kansas had a chance to make it a two-possession game, but Elijah Johnson missed the front end of a one-and-one.
“When Elijah Johnson missed the front end of the one-and-one, I knew we had a chance,” Burke said. “I just tried to hit the shot and then, with four seconds left, tried to calm things down because they had another shot coming.”
Naadir Tharpe’s last-second effort clanged off the rim at the end of regulation. Tharpe also missed a three-pointer from similar length at the end of overtime, as Kansas doomed itself with a badly executed final possession.
“I feel bad for Kansas. They have a really good team. But the ball bounced our way at the end,” Beilein said.
The Jayhawks soundly dominated the front-court game, outscoring Michigan 60-40 in the paint (despite forward Mitch McGary’s team-high 25 points for Michigan), and shot 55 percent from the field to Michigan’s 49 percent.
But they never took charge in overtime and simply traded baskets with the Wolverines.
Michigan got a huge defensive play from Glenn Robinson III as Kansas tried to even the score, intercepting a Jayhawk pass and earning a trip to the line. He hit both to put Michigan up, 87-82.
Kansas’s Elijah Johnson answered with a three-pointer, but Burke played a clever game of keep-away to milk the clock on Michigan’s next possession.
After Tharpe’s final effort clanged off the rim and the final buzzer sounded, Burke was scooped up and held aloft like a trophy by reserve Corey Person.
Kansas redshirt freshman Ben McLemore shook off his recent shooting slump to finish with a team-high 20 points.
The Jayhawks (31-6) were seeking to reach the NCAA championship game for a second consecutive year.
Less than two minutes into the game, Johnson was called for a flagrant foul, and his first-half contribution was limited to just three minutes after he drew three early fouls. He was called to the bench in favor of Tharpe, who distributed the ball well but lacked Johnson’s scoring ability.
Both teams struggled with jump shots early, giving the edge to the dominant Kansas front court, which scored early and often on layups and put-backs to take a 20-11 lead with 11 minutes 9 seconds remaining in the first half.
McLemore registered a resounding block early but missed his first three attempts before finally hitting from long range to extend the Kansas lead to 25-17. It was only his second successful three-pointer in his last 13 previous attempts. Jayhawks fans cheered the awakening, shouting, “Let’s go, Ben!”
McLemore scored again in transition and followed with a dunk to give Kansas its first double-digit lead of the night.
With the 7-foot Jeff Withey defending the rim, it was tough for Michigan to inflict much damage inside. But the Wolverines’ Nik Stauskas sank a three-pointer despite being leveled by the onrushing McLemore, who was called for a foul.
Michigan (29-7) had a chance to cut its deficit further after stripping the ball, but the outlet pass was wildly overthrown, and Kansas took a 40-34 lead to the break.
A stunning 34 of the Jayhawks’ 40 first-half points came in the paint. Kansas also blocked five first-half shots to Michigan’s one.
Kansas’s lead remained at 10 with 2:52 left, but Burke made sure it quickly evaporated, scoring eight points in the final 1:13 of regulation to help Michigan force overtime.
Feinstein: Boeheim says he isn’t going anywhere
Photos: Scenes from the tournament